Last week, it was time to take Janice and Leroy in for their annual vet appointment. After getting the usual round of vaccinations and a good physical, they spent the rest of their visit getting attention from every single employee at the clinic, and I spent a few minutes talking to my vet and friend, Stephen. I’ve spoken about him before here on the blog, and he continues to be a great friend to this day. He’s had his ups and downs along the way with the career, but he’s turned out to be a fantastic vet that his clients really love.
I lucked out in a way, because I knew Steve before he became a vet. Choosing to go to him when he got his license was a no-brainer. I’ve been to some vets before who weren’t nearly as personable, and that made for a bad time for both me and my dogs. Knowing that a friend was becoming a vet made things a lot easier. But if you have just moved into a new area, or you have a new dog and haven’t had to go to the vets around you before, you may not be so lucky. So I’ve rounded up a few tips for choosing a vet that will make both you and your pet comfortable.
Last update on 2019-01-18 at 12:45 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
The first thing you’ll want to consider is how qualified your vet is. Most vets that treat dogs are going to be DVMs or VMDs (same thing, just depends on where they got their degree). These are sort of like the “general practitioners” or family doctors of the pet world. They’ve been trained to treat the most popular pets, like dogs and cats, very thoroughly, and have varying degrees of knowledge into other types of pets like birds. Many rural DVMs also have a lot of experience with cattle and horses.
Some vets, however, will have more expertise in narrower areas. There may be a vet that specifically has more experience with “small animals”, for example – this may be a good person to check out if you have a teacup dog breed, as they have specific health needs due to their small size. You might also be able to find a vet that specializes in dogs and nothing else, which can be a big plus – that person will have more breed-specific knowledge.
Other vets may be qualified in certain areas of veterinary medicine. For example, they may be vet surgeons, or animal allergy specialists. These people typically won’t be your main vet, but it’s good to know that your main vet has a network of these people that they can call up if your dog starts having some rare health issue.
A professional should always be able to offer referrals. A potential vet should have certain clients that have agreed to give honest reviews to any new clients. They may have these listed online on their website, and generally you can trust those as much as you would any other type of referral. After all, why would the vet let you call up someone if they don’t know for sure that person will say something good? Just look for names you recognize from the area if you live in a small town, or look for consistency in the comments. Do reviews suggest that the doctors are personable and reliable? Do they mention her depth of knowledge and speedy actions in crises? Does the vet have a reputation as explaining health concerns in a way that clients can understand? These things are important.
It’s important that if you’re getting referrals in person, that you consider whether these people are similar to you. If you have a friend who has no wish to learn more about her kids’ dog, and just wants to get things done in a hurry, tells you that her vet is great – consider that her vet probably isn’t spending a lot of time with her educating her on her dog’s needs. If he did, she’d probably describe him as slow and wasting her time. That isn’t to say that your friend is in the wrong, just that everyone wants something different from a vet. Take referrals from people who seem to want the same things as you in terms of pet care and understanding.
Here’s one way to judge just how well a vet cares for dogs: ask for a tour of the clinic. There may be certain sterile rooms for surgery that you cannot enter, and they likely won’t let you into their kennel or boarding area for your own safety, but you should be able to see the examination rooms without hesitation. Look for rooms that are clean, appear to be well stocked with extra supplies like slip leashes and clean-up supplies, and have enough space for you to stay with your dog during an exam. If you can peek through the window of the surgery area, look for evidence that they follow sterile procedures, like a gown, boxes of gloves, and so on.
The entire clinic should be very clean and not smell. Of course, if a dog just had an accident, you can cut them some slack – but if their back areas reek of urine in the worst way, chances are they aren’t staying on top of a good cleaning routine. That could lead to potential infections, and it also makes it hard on the dog, who is picking up all that urine smell much more than you are.
While you are there, take a few minutes to hang out in the waiting room, especially if it’s busy. Pay attention to how efficient and courteous the staff are, and also look at the way the dogs are behaving. Granted, they are going to be nervous at being around other dogs, and anxious about being in a strange place – but overall, do they seem like they just hate being there, or do they seem like they are operating on a more normal level of anxiety? Listen to how the receptionist talks on the phone. Watch what happens when dogs leave – do they seem like they can’t wait to get out of there, or are they all wags as the vet tech pets them goodbye?
One important note is that busy vet clinics are actually a really good sign. It means that their clients are happy with them, enough to refer them to others. If you’re worried about getting enough time with the vet, be sure to ask some of the people in the waiting room how they feel about the time they get with the vet.
It’s important that you feel comfortable asking any and every question under the sun – even questions you think are “dumb”. You may not have any pet-specific questions right now since you’re just window shopping, but it’s a good idea to get a feel for the patience of the staff and the vet for questions. Some things to ask right now include:
Asking anything and everything you can think of right now will help you get a feel for how knowledgeable and friendly the clinic is. If you know that you’ll be comfortable asking questions, then you’ll be less anxious about going to the vet, which makes your dog less anxious about going to the vet.
You’d be surprised how controversial things such as pain medication, cancer care, euthanasia, chronic disease care, obedience training, and even spaying and neutering can be in the world of veterinarians. It’s a good idea to ask about their philosophies before you commit. Having a vet that lines up with your philosophies can help ensure that you won’t have to fight to get your dog the care you believe is best. It can also mean that you’ll have an easier time making snap decisions in emergencies, because you’ll know that your vet is on the same page as you when it comes to what you believe is best for your dog.
For example, I know that Stephen is a big advocate for positive puppy training, using clickers and treats rather than dominance games, and I am too. So when I was having behavioral trouble with Janice when she was much younger, he didn’t just tell me I needed to be firmer with her – he considered all the medical angles, and it turned out that she had an easily-treatable ear infection that had been making her grumpy, but which she’d been hiding from me. I had no idea she was in any pain; I just knew that she wasn’t following commands. No big deal now, but it could have been much worse if Stephen had just told me to get tougher with my training methods.
Here’s a great tip that I wish I’d thought of years ago to tell friends who were moving away. One of the biggest stressors about moving with a pet is what to do about finding a new vet. If you have a vet that you’ve worked hard to build a relationship with, it can feel like leaving behind part of your pet’s extended family. So if you want to find someone that you can trust as much as them, ask them if they have any recommendations in your new area. They may not, but if they do, it will tell you who they trust – and that’s a start.
If they have no recommendations, consider doing a little digging and seeing if there’s someone in your new area who went to the same school as your current vet. They may share similar philosophies and have the same level of knowledge because they got the same education.
Now that you’ve gotten all of that important stuff out of the way, you can start to consider what I would think of as the little things. These are things like:
Are they open during hours that will work for your schedule pretty regularly? You may have to take off work one day out of the year for a doggie check-up, but if they offer no flexibility at all for emergencies, you may want to find a vet with more reasonable policies.
Last update on 2019-01-18 at 12:45 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
It’s very important that you take your time to choose the right vet – but not so much time that your dog misses out on important appointments. Vet care is essential for a healthy and happy dog. That being said, do a little bit of trial and error before you simply decide that this is your only choice. If your local vet makes your dog extremely uncomfortable, it may be worth it for their sake and yours to drive to the next town over.
That being said, you can use these tips to help you find the best vet around. Yours may not be as great as Stephen (I don’t know that any vet is), but I’m sure you’ll be able to build a great relationship with your vet if you take the time to research properly.